Humor Travel Life
New Orleans is a city that’s always been on my travel bucket list, and it’s one of the most unique places in the United States. The plan was to meet up with my friend Kirsys for a 3-day girls trip to the Big Easy. While I love having an August birthday, this wasn’t the ideal time of year with regards to weather, and though we planned for rain, we’d soon found out that the forecast is perhaps one of the most unpredictable things about New Orleans.
Kirsys and I met up at our hostel, the HI New Orleans located on Canal Street. After trying out hostels for the first time back in 2017, I became a big fan of them. They allow you to stay in a central area but for much less than you’d pay for a hotel. Plus, they’re actually really nice, and this one in Nola was no exception. The HI New Orleans is easily walkable to the French Quarter and with key access needed to get in at multiple entry points, it’s also a safe spot to stay.
After settling in, we made our way over to the French Quarter. Walking through this famous neighborhood was like taking a time machine back to the 1700s. Of course, walking down Bourbon Street is a harsh reality check that you’re very much still in 2022, with cigarette smoke everywhere. While Bourbon Street wasn’t my scene, we did manage to find a great restaurant on it called Pier 424 Seafood Market. I ordered the Taste of New Orleans, which included Cajun Chicken & Andouille Jambalaya, Crawfish Etouffée, and Chicken Andouille Gumbo – all for $20. All three dishes were incredible, but the Crawfish Etouffée was definitely my favorite.
Once we finished dinner, we made our way to Jackson Square, which is where the edge of the French Quarter meets the Mississippi River. One of the coolest spots at Jackson Square is the St. Louis Cathedral, which was founded in 1720, making it the oldest cathedral in North America.
We then made our way over to see the Mississippi River. While I love getting to say I’ve seen the Mississippi, it probably wasn’t the prettiest spot along the banks of the river. I would bet there are prettier areas along the river with better views.
Of course, one of the best things about New Orleans is the food, and one of the staples you must try when you’re there is beignets, fried pastries cover in powdered sugar. To get our beignet fix, we went to none other than Cafe du Monde, the city’s iconic spot for this pastry treat. Established in 1862, this long-standing Nola staple is located just ahead of Jackson Square by the Mississippi River and French Market. Many local musicians will head to this tourist hotspot to entertain the crowds, many well-deserving of the tips that come their way just by sheer personality alone. You can only buy beignets here three at a time, which sell for $3.40. Also, the venue is cash-only so be sure to hit the ATM before you come here. While the beignets were delicious, I couldn’t finish all three, so I’d recommend splitting a bag with a friend or saving the rest for later.
Once we left Cafe du Monde, it seemed the rain decided to do the same, and we were met with sunny skies the rest of the day, a nice perk for two people who planned for non-stop rain. We made our way to Canal Street where it intersects with St. Charles Street. We caught the original green New Orleans streetcar to go to the Garden District, an upscale New Orleans suburb filled with beautiful, southern-style homes. For $3 cash, you can buy a day pass, which is good for all the streetcar lines. The Garden District was beautiful and definitely worth seeing, but you won’t need much time here. We spent just 15-20 minutes walking around. Getting back to Canal Street was easy. We probably waited roughly 10 minutes for the next streetcar to come by, though in Louisiana's intense humidity and heat, it felt longer.
Once we landed back on Canal Street, we were in the prime position to take the Canal Street line out to where the city’s famous above-ground cemeteries are located. While the city’s oldest cemetery, St. Louis, requires you to be part of a tour, the others are open to guests on their own. There were multiple cemeteries in the area, but we wandered into the closest one from our streetcar stop, Greenwood Cemetery. We made it just in time too! The cemetery’s gate close by 4:30 - though we got kicked out at 4:15, technically. It’s fascinating to see such historic and elaborate gravesites, with some containing family trees that extend over 100-150 years! Though they’re certainly interesting to view, I wouldn’t want to be stuck in one of those cemeteries at night.
For dinner, we ate at Mr. Ed’s Oyster Bar and Fish House on Bienville in the French Quarter, a local spot recommended to us by Kirsy’s immensely helpful Lyft driver. In general, the service in New Orleans wasn’t friendly, but Mr. Ed’s was a welcome exception. We ordered three dishes and split them among the two of us, which totaled about $36 per person with the tip. First up, we got the Charbroiled Oysters, another popular Nola dish. We didn’t think it could get much better than that Crawfish Étouffée, but these oysters easily outdid every other meal we had in New Orleans! They were so good, and our waitress even hooked us up with three extra oysters free of charge. The added flavors in these oysters were phenomenal, and I can’t stress enough that this dish is a must-try when you visit. Our other two dishes were also good (even if they weren’t on oyster-level). We ate BBQ Shrimp and Shrimp Creole. The BBQ Shrimp was basically shrimp and sauce inside a slice of French bread, so it felt more like a sandwich. The Shrimp Creole was tiny shrimp pieces covered in Creole sauce and topped with white rice.
Our last stop for the day was the Voodoo & Vampire Tour hosted by New Orleans Ghost Adventures Tours. The tour met at 8:30 p.m. the Red Door Tour booth located outside Landry’s Seafood on the corner of Decatur and St. Peters. Our guide was Richard, A.K.A. ‘Bubby’, a personable guy sporting a fun hula shirt and shorts as though he was ready to go on vacation himself. The tour was fabulous, and it was fascinating to hear about the darker side of New Orleans' history. It costs about $30, but I think it’s worth it. Also, this is a walking tour so definitely bring good shoes. Perhaps one of the coolest aspects of the tour is that you get to walk through the French Quarter at night, which we hadn’t done yet. I will say that part of town is way more spooky at night, adding to the overall effect.
Our third and final day was just as busy as the first two. We got an early start, first checking out of our hostel, which was able to store our luggage for the day until we had to leave for the airport. We then made our way over to Magazine Street, a recommendation we found online. Based on descriptions, we had expected Magazine street to be filled with shops and places to explore, but it appeared to be more of a business center – at least from where we turned on it from Canal Street. All wasn’t lost, though, since we were able to stop at a popular breakfast spot called The Ruby Slipper. I wasn’t super hungry yet, but one look at the menu, and I couldn’t resist getting something. After all, how many chances does this Angeleno get to have southern cooking actually in the South? I ordered two sides: cheese grits and a biscuit. I hadn’t had cheese grits before, but they were absolutely delicious. And the biscuit was no slouch either. Both items were pretty filling actually, so if you want to try just a few side orders here, you should be plenty full. Plus, it’s a great budget-friendly option. Together with coffee, my breakfast total came to $10.
Our next plan was to walk to Congo Square in Armstrong Park on the other edge of the French Quarter. Our ghost tour guide had mentioned the night before that a group of people who practice voodoo congregate here and even perform rituals around Noon each day. We thought it would be interesting to see and experience, but when we showed up at Noon, there was nothing to be found. That’s not to say it never happens here, but I wouldn’t make plans around it. The silver lining was that we were right across the street from a spooky museum that we decided to check out. The venue is called Bloody Mary’s Haunted Museum. When you first walk in, it’s a store, but you can also purchase tickets to go through the museum portion in the other part of the building. It’s an interesting set up because it’s basically a museum set up in a two-story apartment building. Though small, they do cover lots of interesting New Orleans haunted history. The museum provides their display information through an app that has an audio feature. Personally, I found this to be kind of inconvenient because we found that it can take a while to download the app to your phone. I would have rather read descriptions by the displays, but again, that’s just me. The scariest part of the museum, though, was upstairs as it was the murder scene of a story that had been told to us on the ghost tour the night before, creating a very spooky full-circle moment. I think this museum is a cool find, and tickets are only $10 so you won’t break the bank worth checking out.
After Bloody Mary’s, we made our way to the French Market, followed by Frenchman Street. The French Market is good for food and souvenirs, while Frenchman Street is known for local music. We briefly wandered into a dive bar on Frenchman Street called the Spotted Cat Music Club. This personally wasn’t my vibe since I’m not really into dive bars, and I’m sure there are better spots to catch local music. Our last spot before heading back to the hostel to grab our luggage was Pirate’s Alley Café, which used to be a Spanish prison in the 1700s and famously held the pirate Jean Lafitte. I definitely enjoy this spot more, and despite it’s fascinating history, it was actually very chill and easy to find a place to sit.
Despite the craziness I experienced during my flight home, (looking at you, Delta), this Nola trip was one for the books. We were only there three days, but it was more than enough time to see the city. My favorite things about New Orleans were the history, architecture, and food. Nola is such a unique city that’s definitely worth experiencing, and I’m glad I was able to do it with a wonderful friend. It was a fantastic birthday well-spent.
As someone who loves travel, it’s especially exciting when you can combine travel and work. In mid-July, I had the opportunity to travel to Raleigh, North Carolina for a work conference. Not only was I excited to meet many of my colleagues in person, but I was also looking forward to seeing Raleigh for the first time. Furthermore, I had never been to North Carolina, so it was a brand new experience in both the state and city. Though the trip would be short and primarily focused on work, I would have a little time to see some of the city.
Despite having two layovers to get there – a potential issue in this busy summer travel season – I had a relatively smooth trip getting there. I did have a three-hour delay on my second layover, but since it was to my final destination and wouldn’t get me in super late, it wasn’t a major inconvenience.
Since it was summer in the southeastern U.S., I expected hot and muggy weather, and true to form, the weather there was just that. To be fair, though, I’m someone who enjoys the heat, and we’ve had a milder summer in LA, so I didn’t mind the higher temps.
My main time to explore was the evening of the day I arrived. I walked from my hotel, the Aloft, toward downtown Raleigh. The Aloft is a boutique hotel, and it’s right next to North Carolina State University, making it a great spot for families coming from out of town to visit students there. Another perk to the Aloft is that it’s next door to a local coffee shop, as well as some restaurants, but more on that later!
As I walked toward downtown Raleigh, I definitely found that the city has this feeling of where the East Coast meets the South, as I saw hints of both in the architecture. Raleigh is definitely a quieter city than I expected but still very pretty and clean.
I made my way back to the hotel, which is when I decided to stop for dinner at a local spot called The Player’s Retreat, which serves as both a bar and restaurant. I sat outside and ordered a sandwich and fries, along with a Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale (a nice treat for this OG Michigander). The food was great, but the service was even better. Honestly, the staff was super nice, and I learned this was one of the few places around town that required Covid-19 vaccine cards if you decided to go inside.
After a great time with my colleagues, it was eventually time for me to travel back to Los Angeles. I had an early flight and was nervous that I’d have difficulty trying to catch a Lyft to Raleigh airport at 3:30 in the morning. Surprisingly, I found a Lyft right away, so no issue there. Despite the early morning hours at Raleigh airport, the place was packed with travelers. I gave myself extra time, but I will say the TSA line was pretty long, so don’t let yourself be short on time if you can help it. Currently, airports are busier than ever, and many are also understaffed, so giving yourself extra time is a good idea. Better to wait in the terminal than miss your flight, right?
One thing about the Raleigh airport – and really airports in general – is that they get cold. Even if it’s 90 degrees outside, it’s an igloo inside. Pack a sweater, even if it’s just for the journey. I had to buy one at one of the airport stores, so I could be comfortable.
I had a fantastic time seeing Raleigh for the first time and eventually hope to see more of North Carolina someday.
Up next, I’ll be sharing my birthday trip to the one and only New Orleans!
About the author
Jill Zwarensteyn is a writer and comedian who has been featured on Amazon, truTV, The New York Times, Matador Network, BUST Magazine, Sleep Advisor, Tiplr, ARTRPRNR Magazine, YourTango, Thought Catalog, GoMad Nomad, Mashable, The Daily Mail UK, the Cannes Film Festival, LaughFest, Women's Lifestyle Magazine, and the Funny Women Festival LA. For more info visit: http://www.jillzwarensteyn.weebly.com